Book of Frank Herbert, The by Herbert, Frank, 1973

Book of Frank Herbert, The by Herbert, Frank

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One of five collections of Frank Herbert's work, this one contains stories mainly from the fifties and the seventies. Some of his better short work can be found here.

Seed Stock, by Frank Herbert, 1970, originally published in Analog Science Fiction -> Science Fact: Three years before the era of this story a colony ship of humans arrived at a still unnamed planet and disgorged its cargo and passengers. The planet was harsh and unforgiving; very little of the flora or fauna that the colonists brought with them survived the three years to the time of the story. The only species that seemed to be doing well were the falcons, and they got their food from islands out at sea. Because so many crops failed and animals died, the colonists made their living on a kind of shrimp called trodi that were discovered, first harvested and preserved by a colonial laborer named Kroudar. Kroudar is hideous. He started off ugly, and of all the colonists there the planet has been the harshest to him.

A short man, Kroudar gave the impression of heaviness, but under all his shipcloth motley he was as scrawny as any of the others, all bone and stringy muscle. It was the sickness of this planet, the doctors told him. They called it “body burdens,” a subtle thing of differences in chemistry, gravity, diurnal periods and even the lack of a tidal moon.

Kroudar is one of the only laborers in the whole colony. Everyone else is some sort of scientist. There are class distinctions on the planet, and Kroudar is definitely low-class. He is treated as such at the hands of the colonial masters, even though his efforts have twice saved the them from the slow death of starvation. But Kroudar is also married; to Hanida, a botanist who surprised everyone by choosing Kroudar as a mate. One night Hanida shows Kroudar a project she has been working on. Hanida has spliced together a new strain of maize from the DNA of other maize plants that have managed to survive in the colony’s poor soil. It’s a food source that will likely thrive in this environment. Once Kroudar sees the corn he realizes why Hanida married him; because Hanida has realized that the creatures that are going to survive on this colony are the ones that adapt – the ones that the planet remake into its own. All of the others – most of whom were busy trying hopelessly to duplicate Earth – were doomed. Kroudar, on the other hand, had been busy making himself into a creature of this new planet, just as the falcons already had. At the end of the story Kroudar and Hanida agree that when he returns from his upcoming fishing trip they will put some thought into naming their new home. Colonization, Survival, Biology; 4 Stars

THE NOTHING, by Frank Herbert, 1956, originally published in Fantastic Universe: A young Hollywood-obsessed woman, Carlysle, meets a handsome man, Claude, in a bar. Everyone in the world has some sort of psi-power. This woman is a pyrokinetic who can start flames with her mind. She strikes up a conversation with Claude because he reminds her of her favorite actor. When he ignores her she lites some papers in front of him on fire. Surprised, he admits to her that he is a "nothing," which means that he is the rare human that has no powers. More, he has escaped from a preserve in Sonoma for his kind. As Carlysle starts to move in for the kill some cops come in and arrest them both. They are taken back to the police station where Claude's prescient father meets them, and advises Carlysle that he has foreseen that she will soon marry Claude.

Claude's dad reveals to Carlysle that the preserves are really enclaves where nothings are taught to use tools and to keep society going in the old ways (prior to the advent of psi-powered humans), because more and more nothings are born every year. Soon psi powers will greatly diminish in strength, and less of them will be born each generation. He also reveals that if she and Claude mate there will be a 70% chance that a strong prescient will be born, and Claude's dad wants humanity to have some strong precients in the future.

Carlysle went to tell her parents that she got a government job, but was first outfitted with a "blanket" under the skin of her skull to keep mindreaders, such as her father, from figuring out what was going on. Despite the many mindreaders out there the government managed to keep a lid on what was happening to humanity. The twist at the end was that humanity's psi powers were weakened much further than Claude's dad let on. Psi Powers, Government, Evolution, Family; 3.5 Stars

Rat Race, by Frank Herbert, 1955, originally published in Astounding Science Fiction: A local cop named Welby Lewis with a reputation for solving difficult crimes became interested in the goings on in a local funeral home after a mortician lied to him. Lewis had business at the Johnson funeral home one day; he had to pick up the contents of a deceased woman’s stomach so that the county medical examiner could rule out foul play. While there Lewis spied some unusual metal tanks. When he inquired about them Johnson told him that they contained embalming fluid. Lewis later realized that embalming fluid would disintegrate metal tanks and fir that reason was typically shipped in concentrated form in glass containers. Irritated at being lied to and concerned over what Johnson was really up to Lewis staked out the funeral home. When the stakeout went nowhere Lewis changed tactics. He entered the funeral home and confronted Johnson. Johnson got scared and took Lewis hostage. Johnson interrogated Lewis, and when he found that Lewis suspected foul play Johnson drew a gun and shot Lewis in the chest, then blew his own brains out.

Lewis survived the gunshot wounds, but Johnson did not survive his. Lewis had put a lot of thought into what was going on before he was captured, but he was injured so badly that he had to get others to do things for him so he could solve the crime from his hospital bed. At his urging the sheriff pulled up the floors behind and below the room that stored the tanks. Below them they found a laboratory. Behind them in the wall they found a bunch of unusually pure silver wires in a thick lattice. With just those facts Lewis made a pretty incredible logical leap (in the hard to believe sense, not the spectacular one) and deduced that Johnson was an alien and that the silver wires were part of a matter transporter network.

“From what I know of science fiction,” said Lewis, “that silver grid in the hall must be some kind of mater transmitter for sending the tanks to wherever they’re used.”

We’ve all seen this kind of pandering before. When this story was published in the 1950’s it was assumed that the bulk of science fiction readers were young boys with inadequate social skills. I’m sure that they were not too far off there, and for young 50’s misfits who had knowledge of how SF worked, it may have made them feel great to think that the unique observation skills that they had earned through diligent reading of SF may one day pay off. Deducing a matter transporter from some appearing and disappearing tanks surrounded by silver wires is the kind of thing that only happens in SF. But for those of us with a brain, this just seems stupid. Fortunately for us, this is as far as Herbert went with it. The rest of the story is a hard-SF mystery story: What is the lab for, and what does it mean for us? Lewis and his doctor friend, Dr. Bellarmine, figure that Johnson was either whipping up some kind of genetic WMD that he produced from blood extracted from the cadavers in the funeral home, or his race set a test for us – if we figured it out and got to their home with the matter transmitter, we may be welcomed with open arms. As the story ends Lewis woke up - after an emergency surgery because his wounds reopened - to find that the good doctor has used the transporter to go wherever the tanks had been sent. As he recuperates, Lewis wonders what is next for mankind. First Contact, Suicide, Mystery, Aliens, Teleportation; 3 Stars

GAMBLING DEVICE, by Frank Herbert, 1973, original to this volume: Very interesting pulpish story about a newlywed couple that stopped at a creepy hotel in teh California desert while on their honeymoon. Once they were shown their room they realized that their door had no inside knob. A voice from the hotel told them that they were going to be permenant guests, and that absolutely no gambling would be allowed. The couple made their way down to the lobby and met the other guests. One of them, and old woman who had been at the hotel for a very long time, told them that they were all prisoners, and that the hotel made all their choices for them. She thought it was some sort of recovery place for gamblers, and the the hotel considered anything that would result in a random occurrence a form of gambling. The hotel would decide for them when they ate, what they did, what and when they spoke. It even would abort a fetus and sterilize the parents because of the randomness of the process of reproduction. The hotel considered its job to "remove any gambling devices," once they were used for that purpose. Trapped, the man put his mind to the problem. Thinking quickly, took out a coin and announced to the hotel:

"My wife and I are going to to gamble, using the hotel and this coin as the gambling device. The moment of interference is the thing upon which we are gambling . . . we are gambling upon when the hotel will remove my coin or if it will remove my coin," he said. "We will make one of several decisions dependent upon the moment of interference or the lack of interference."

Even though the coin was the gambling tool, not the hotel, the hotel disappeared right after the man's announcement. Very cute and very short, byt illogical and somewhat goofy the story was nevertheless interesting. It also touched upon a little used theme in SF: Gambling and games of chance. In the end it was pulpish logic game where the protagonist had to puzzle his way out of a locked room, but it worked pretty well and was a fun read. AI; 2.5 Stars

LOOKING FOR SOMETHING?, by Frank Herbert, 1952, originally published in Startling Stories: This is a confusing but compelling story about the nature of reality and our perceptions of it. In it a ghost-like alien named Mirsar Wees governs the subprefecture of Earth for a race of cretures that conquered, enslaved and eventually destroyed his own home planet around Deneb. Wees' job is to make sure that the illusion of reality that we all see continues so that humans never realize that they are really slaves that serve as crops for the aliens. A substance called korad is removed secretly from the minds of humans. Korad gives the aliens immortality. The alien race keeps control of the humans by indoctrinating them before birth with a hypnotic command to ignore their presence,and employs a network of spies to make sure that the conditionig never breaks.

While Wees was on vacation a human hypnotist, Paul Marcus, broke through some of his own conditioning while he had a woman, Madelyne Walker, under his spell at a hypnosis show. The story is about absolute control, as the aliens have realized that if their deception became public knowledge, there would be little to stop the rage of mankind from seriously damaging or destroying them. That was why the planet that circled Deneb had to be destroyed. They realized what was being done to them - that they were being robbed of their own natural form of immortality - and they struck back swiftly and viciously. At the end of the story Wees regains conficende in his network of underlings:

He inserted the tube into a translator, sat down, and watched as it dealt out the report:

"A Hindu creature has seen itself as it really is," the report said.

Mirsar Wees reached over and put a tracer-beam on his new assistant to observe how that worthy was meeting this threat. .

The report buzzed on: "The creature went insane as per indoctrination command, but most unfortunately it is a member of a sect which worships insanity. Others are beginning to listent to its babblings."

The report concluded: "I make haste."

Mirsar Wees leaned back, relaxed adn smiled blandly. The new assistant showed promise.

One of the best short stories I have read in years. This one should have been expanded to a nove. I see traces of it in a many modern SF films, not the least of which is The Matrix. Slavery, Hypnotism, Psi Powers, Immortality, Aliens, Insanity, Empires; 4 Stars

THE GONE DOGS, by Frank Herbert, 1954, originally published in Amazing Stories: In an ill advised attempt to rid his region of coyotes a foolish veternarian/rancher in New Mexico loosed a single coyote that had been infected with a form of hog cholera. The disease wiped out the coyotes, but it also was 100% fatal to all other canines. The governments of the world scrambled before dogs disappeared from the world for good. A biologist, Varley Trent, worked with Dr. Hans-Meers to devise a remedy to the plague. Despite orders of quarantine Trent has kept a pack of nine hounds at his hunting camp in the mountains. He knows that contact with humans is enough to kill the dogs, so he asks a friend of his, a general in the military, to order a robotic sentry plane to keep people away from the camp.

Desperate to find a cure Trent works in his own lab, but also gave some other uninfected dogs to a group of scientists on a planet around Vega. Humans had availed themselves of Vegan geneticists before, and knew well that the Vegans tended to return creatures to us that resembled fish, no matter what their original form. After a time Trent's Vegan friend asked for some more dogs. By that time his nine pups were the only uninfected ones on Earth. His secret stash of dogs had become public knowledge at that point, so when he let Anso-Anso, the Vegan scientist, take three, the world quickly found out. The day after Anso-Anso left Trent was summoned to Congress to explain himself to a politician who was going to run for president next term. Trent, urged by Hans-Meers, evaded the police, stole a ship with a forged paper and ran to Vega to help work on the problem. After he arrived he learned that the Vegans had succeeded, but dogs now had six legs. This was a great biological thriller with an anti-climactic ending. Catastrophe, Plagues, Animals, Scientists, Hard SF; 2.5 Stars

Passage for Piano, by Frank Herbert, 1973, originally published by Daw in The Priests of Psi: Marguerite’s family has been selected to colonize “Planet C.” Her son, David, is a depressed music prodigy who was blinded by a very rare virus that space explorers brought back inadvertently from another planet. David’s grandfather was a virtuoso musician. When he died he willed his piano to David, who now treasures it as much as he treasures the memory of his grandfather. Due to weight restrictions the piano cannot be taken to Planet C. As the date of departure approaches David grew more and more depressed. His psychologist told Marguerite that David identifies his inherited gifts with his inherited piano, and cannot bear the thought of leaving it behind. David’s depression grows so great that Marguerite considers staying at home with David while her daughter and husband leave to colonize Planet C, but before she decides on so radical a course of action, a better idea occurred to her. Marguerite and a friend called all the other colonists and convinced them to donate pounds from their personal allocation so that the piano could be smuggled aboard. She was about a third of the way through when command heard of the scheme and stopped her. But Marguerite and David made an impassioned plea to the commander, and David came up with the great idea of taking the keyboard and harp only, and making a new case from wood indigenous to Planet C. “That way the piano will be part of Earth, and part of our new home,” David tells the commander. The commander was so moved that he donated from his own personal allocation the seven pounds that were needed to get it done. This is a charming story of a community coming together to help one of its own. It’s also about the need for certain comforts when in an unknown and potentially dangerous situation. Music, Colonization, Community; 3.5 Stars

ENCOUNTER IN A LONELY PLACE, by Frank Herbert, 1973, original to this volume: An old man shares a psychic bond with the woman of his dreams, a Norwegian he grew up with named Olna. The link allows him to see everything that she sees. His greatest wish is that he can use his psychic gift to bring Olna closer to him, but she is so creeped out by the fact that he just knows all the intimate details of her life that she has grown to hate him. Psi Powers, Love; 3 Stars

OPERATION SYNDROME, by Frank Herbert, 1954, originally published in Astounding: For the last several months an unusual plague has been striking one city after another. The first was Honolulu, then Los Angeles, Karachi, Lawton, Kansas and others, large and small. The only symptom is insanity: Every person within a sixty mile radius of the city just goes crazy. An army of psychologists have been consulted to give therapy to the afflicted, but Dr. Eric Ladde, the student of a brilliant but insane psychologist named Carlos Amanti, has been working on a device to cure the insane. Amanti, prior to his own institutionalization, invented a device that allowed its user to affect brain chemistry and alter brain waves with particular sensory input: Scent, auditory, taste, etc. All of Amanti's other former students consider Ladde's efforts to be a mistake because they have come to believe that even before he went insane Amanti was a crack-pot. Ladde thinks that he was on to something, but cannot get the device to function the proper way. Most of the people in unaffected cities worry about when it will be their turn, and Ladde is no exception. Lately he has been having a nightmare about a beautiful woman in a red cape.

One day he was walking by the the water in his hometown of Seattle and the woman from his dreams walked right by him. He struck up a conversation with her and learned that her name was Colleen Lanai, a lounge singer. She was the vocalist in a two-man band. Her partner Pete used a device called a Musikron that could bring to the ear on others any sound that Pete imagined. Intrigued by the machine Eric arranged to attend a show where he realized that the machine was not actually producing sound, but instead Pete was broadcasting music directly into the minds of listeners.

Eric began investigating the machine; he thought that Amanti may have been involved in its construction, and when he learned that Colleen and Pete met in Hawai'i right before that city succumbed to the plague, he was sure. Eric and Colleen fell in love, but Colleen became confused and left Eric for Pete after the show in Seattle. Before she left she gave Eric the design specs for the Musikron.

When Eric noteced Amanti's handwritten notes all over them, he tried to modify his own device to duplicate the Musikron. Eric also realized, after examining Pete and Colleen's travel records, that they had visited every city that had already succumed and that theyr shows proceeded the first cases by about 28 hours. Unless he could act quickly, Ladde realized that population of Seattle would go insane within the next 28 hours. Pete and Colleen escaped to London with the Musikron; Colleen loved Eric but she decided that she just could not leave Pete, even though she realized that he was intentionally driving people insane. After her departure Eric managed to build out his device and in the very last second turned it on and made contact with the mind of someone in Seattle. He realized that Pete had been using the device to reach out to other people's minds then imprinted his own personality on them and drove them insane. Pete was insane, but Eric was as sane as they come. Once the insane palavered with Eric they were cured.

Operation Syndrome had a number of plot holes, but Herbert did an adequate enough job, and added enough twists that many of the holes could be forgiven - or at least forgotten - by the time the story concludes. This story reminded me of something that Mark Clifton would have written. Insanity, Psychology, Dreams, Scientists, Love, Innovation; 2.5 Stars

OCCUPATION FORCE, by Frank Herbert, 1955, originally published in Fantastic: United States astronomers observe an enormous space craft approaching the Earth. It takes up a parking orbit, and ignores all attempts to contact it. The Joint Chiefs of Staff debate whether or not to try to knock the ship out of the sky, but the President decides to wait it out. Eventually a shuttle breaks off and lands in Washington D.C., and disgorges three human-looking men. They announce that they are sorry for waiting so long between visits, and shock everyone by announcing that they colonized the Earth seven thousand years ago. Herbert gives an interesting (if overused) idea, then just kind of stops the story without giving an ending. Colonization, Origins of Man, Government, Bureaucracy; 2.5 Stars

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3 star(s)


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